I’m rewriting this a day later. Mostly, because I really don’t want it to sound like a rant. The simple truth is that etiquette is a slippery topic in this world today, and it tends to slide like a frozen salmon off to the side of things.
The problem is that etiquette itself can be way overdone, and leads to things like 17 utensils for the 6 courses of an aristocratic meal at the estate. In other words, it tends to be a self-reinforcing prison itself.
What I’m really speaking about is trail etiquette. Manners. Awareness of other users. Being able to place oneself in the shoes of another. See the world through their eyes.
Not saying we all have to agree, but it’s helpful to realize ours is not the only boat on the water.
I’d been riding east for a while, into a cooling headwind. Both to regain a little core heat and the fact that I seldom miss an opportunity to divert onto trails, I nudged the Quickbeam onto the lower trails at China Camp, much against my better judgement. You see, it was about 11 am, and that has always been dead center in the “magic hours”.
This is something I’m not sure I’ve written about before, but my long-held belief is that on Saturday/Sunday between the hours of 10 am and noon, on any trail system in general and the China Camp State Park trails in particular is high tide for bad behaviour. It’s best to avoid things during this time. Something about how long it takes everyone to descend from out of the area via auto combined with the need for blowing out the workweek.
I’d much rather roll the trails at daybreak or sunset midweek, when you can find turkeys and stunning displays of light and shadow. But, here I was and the trails did call. So, diverting past a few groups of Mountain Dewbies and folks tinkering with heavy hinged bicycles, I ambled onto the dirt.
Now, even on the weekends, trail users do disperse onto the options pretty well, and though I did hear some chatter there weren’t any clusters. I chatted with a couple hikers. Enjoyed the carpets of deep red Indian Paintbrush which had bloomed everywhere the sun reached. Meandered and passed a couple single riders.
Then the onslaught began. Couple of brisk pass-bys from the other direction with nary an acknowledgement of my existence. Adults who didn’t even say “hey” back. Followed by a few kids - who were actually very well mannered, both announcing my appearance (”rider up!”) and mitigating their speed and direction. Then the wagon train hit - easily 20-plus riders in nose-to-tail position, cruising my way and having no intention of yielding trail. Many jerseys from a well-rostered “Trails Coalition” were in evidence, but manners, not so much.
It didn’t really bug me too much. I know the dynamics of groups and when you are rolling in a pack, it can be dangerous to suddenly slow or stop. And they weren’t at race pace to be sure. It’s also easy to feel safe and protected, trusting the rider in front of you to pass back info about trail conditions and other users.
Except this group was as mute as they come. And I could see on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped bit of trail that some hikers had been similarly pinned down. The express train passed and I rolled back onto the trail. Jockeyed past a couple more 5-10 rider oncoming groups and eased up to the hikers. We would be be spilled out onto a wide, open parking lot area in another 30 meters, so I eased up and followed them. We all made it to the bridge which ends the trail, where one rider patiently waited for our exit and a couple others trails-ed a bit in the parking lot so as not to create a bottleneck.
I have no idea why the fourth guy decided that was a perfect time to roll onto the bridge and pass us. The bridge is reasonably narrow - though enough room to pass two bikes if both pay attention. But it was a stupid, needless breach of trail etiquette. More so since it was obvious that the two hikers in front of me were a little older. Even more so since there were three riders waiting for us to exit. Which took all of another second.
So, yes. I did ask him the general question, “What the HELL?” and pointed out he could have shown a little courtesy and waited a second. Since I tend to ask questions in three, I may have also asked him what the heck he was in such a hurry for.
Generally disgusted, I rolled over to the restroom and upon my egress there found the hikers in close proximity. Took a moment to apologize for the behaviour of that fellow and we chatted a bit - since they’d been speaking Danish on the trail and I’m always on the prowl looking to hone my accents. We had a nice little chat, enjoyed the excitement of a small girl who was riding for the first time without training wheels. Had the opportunity to assure them that, yes, you could ride the trails with smooth, small-seeming (i.e. not monster-truck) tires. We all agreed that we were dead-center in the worst possible time to enjoy these trails.
But, I really didn’t think I should have to play ombudsman for the bicycle users on those trails. Problem is that I have a bit of a proprietary feeling for the park. It’s close enough that I ride there a lot, throughout the year, for many years. I’ve broken down the edges of water-filled potholes in the winter to let them drain and put branches over inopportune
short cuts to discourage further use. It has been great to see the FOCC group come together to insure funding for this special resource. What’s funny is that it seems that this interlude took place during a “Gala” ride for a trails coalition.
Easily 98% of the time, things are good and users are aware and attentive. The very small percentage of times is what becomes the bad press and tools to close things down. This is as important to solo riders So, if you are planning a group outing - anything more than you and (s)he and thee - think about these guidelines:
Know Your Rights! (which suddenly brought this into my brain - not really the most memorable Clash song.)
Bikes yield to Hikers
Bikes yield to Horses
Uphill traffic has the right of way.
So, if you see hikers coming towards you. Slow. Be ready to stop. Make eye contact and pay attention to body language. Most hikers do not understand that we may have the balance and skill to remain motionless if our feet aren’t on the ground. If the hiker yields their right of way to you, thank them. Because they yielded their right-of-way to you.
The uphill thing - c’mon, it’s common sense. It’s harder for me to regain momentum as an uphill rider than it is for you to access gravity on a restart.
Spread Out! (with a tip o’ the voice to Moe Howard)
Three is good. Five is a lot. More is a train. If you have a group of 20 riders, break it up. Let different groups lead a section. But, particularly to hikers, any large group of riders on tight trails is like standing on the edge of the station platform while the express train screams past.
Make Some Noise! (No. There will not be a Quiet Riot link here.)
Here’s something to try. Next time you go out with a friend on the trails, start walking your bike on a narrow trail while they wait. Have them shove off a couple minutes later and roll up on you (without coasting) without announcing their presence until they are a couple feet behind you. Yes, I’ll wait while you clean your shorts. Bikes are quiet, eh? (Well, it is one of really good public services provided by squeaky full-suspension bikes with squawky disc brakes…extremely audible trail announcements.)
Now, put two hikers talking loudly together, or a runner with a set of headphones and what little chance they had of noticing your arrival is totally gone.
Whistle. Use a bell. Sing. Snap your brake levers. Particularly at blind corners. Let the world know you are there.
This is different than general announcement noise making. Talk to people. Let them know you are really a human in there. It’s harder to hold a grudge against someone who lets you know they love the weather, or saw a wild turkey, or are enjoying the wildflowers. Be a human. To me when I’m riding - especially if I say “hey there!” to you - and to other trail users. If you have to wait at the side of a trail for a human centipede of hikers to amble past, see if you can make a few of them laugh.
I get it on the roadways, where you can’t always be heard over traffic and there’s still the stigma of roadie-ism, where for some stick up the chamois reason it’s uncool to wave. But, if you and I are the only people on a trail, you really have to try to ignore me. Makes me wonder why you want to put so much effort into that act.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the ride!